Went to a writing workshop with Connie Willis, part of the Hugo House series of one day workshops (http://www.nwmediaarts.com/2007Event-Workshops.html). Connie was wonderful, with lots of insights on plot. She gave TONS of examples from books and movies, which I always find helpful. And, in addition to all the tidbits I picked up from Connie, it was nice to spend the day with a bunch of other writers, talking about writing.
Assorted tidbits from Connie Willis:
Plot reversals change the direction of the story. The questions that the reader is interested in change. A reversal can come about by finding out a secret, making a connection, observing who or what someone really is, etc.
Unreliable narrators are unreliable for a reason. If there isn’t a reason behind the narrator deceiving the reader, the reader will feel cheated.
Want your reader to get behind a less sympathetic character? Make that character’s suffering vastly worse than they deserve. Then the character might be obnoxious, but the reader will still have some sympathy for them because they’re suffering so much. (Think Shakespeare’s King Lear)
Fiction is not about how people SHOULD feel in a situation. The closer you can get to the truth of how you’d really feel in that situation, the better.
Coincidences should not be used to resolve/end a story, or get characters out of trouble. They can be used to start a story, or to make things worse.
Don’t change EVERYTHING just because it’s the future. Some things have changed over time (e.g., radios) others haven’t really changed much (e.g., scissors, tables).
If you’re describing your plot, and you use the word AND more than the word SO then you have a problem. (He does this AND she did that AND…as opposed to he does this SO she did that.) You want a causal chain of events.
Character is plot. Example: Romeo and Juliet. What happens if you put Hamlet in the lead role? Not much — Hamlet would dither and worry, and the story would go nowhere. BUT if you stick Romeo in Hamlet, it’d be over in 15 minutes.